Monday, February 19, 2007

What about the other 199?

I've heard that you have to write about 200 poems to get one that really works, that sings. Sometimes that number changes, but the idea remains the same.

At a reading, a novelist mentioned that he had written about four pages for every page that was in the final version of his book. I figure that those other four pages disappeared in the revision process. But if you're penning many poems to get that one, what happens to the others?

And do you know which one is the one? Sometimes I think I've finished the best piece that I've ever written, and it just falls flat. On other occasions, I struggle with a poem only to take it to poetry group and hear that it's working really well for the other members of the group. I think that's probably because I'm stretching into more unfamiliar areas, so it doesn't feel comfortable to me.

Lacking that certainty, I try to look at every poem as an opportunity and to give every opportunity to be that poem. This comes back to the question of what to do with all the others. Do you throw them in a drawer, throw them away, keep working on them, send them out? At that moment, do they feel like that poem to you?

Or is the number just that—a number? What do you think about the 199?

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